September 2, 2010
Long Road to the Promised Land – Middle East Peace Talks Obama Style
Hosni Mubarak, Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II, Photo Courtesy of the New York Times
by Gunter David
Presumably they serve good food at the White House. That is where the-face-to-face talks between Israel and the Palestinians began once again with a dinner on Wednesday evening. I don’t know the menu, but hopefully it started the negotiators on the right course.
Guests of President Obama included Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and King Abdullah of Jordan and Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, whose countries have peace treaties with Israel. The latter two symbolize that peace between Israel and the Arabs is possible, but they won’t participate in negotiations.
Marring the new peace talks was a fatal shooting of four Israeli soldiers on the West Bank the day before.
Other problems hindering previous talks include the fact that Abbas governs the West Bank only, while the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants are controlled by Hamas, the terrorist organization with a history of firing rockets into Israel. Abbas has not been strong enough in the past, and there are no indications that his status has changed.
On the Israeli side, the major problem is the settlers. Some half-a-million Israelis live in the Palestinian West Bank, so called as it is on the west bank of the river Jordan. Among them are some 130,000 ultra orthodox, who believe that G-d promised the entire territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean to the Jewish people. It was the land where kings David and Solomon ruled, where the 12 tribes of Israel settled following the exodus from Egypt. To any suggestion that they give up the land, they respond with the equivalent of “Hell no, we won’t go.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who essentially supports the settlers, under pressure from the U.S. imposed a moratorium on the construction of new settlements. It ends on Sept. 26. Construction of several hundred new homes by Israelis in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want to establish their capital, is a key issue.
Abbas has threatened to withdraw from the negotiations unless Netanyahu extends the moratorium.
But what will such an extension solve? Won’t it only be a postponement of what appears to be a problem that cannot be resolved? Religious faith dominates on both sides, along with Zionist and Palestinian nationalism.
And then there are the other long-standing issues: the future of Jerusalem, borders of the Palestinian state, and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, many of which are now in Israel.
There is a history of failed peace talks between the parties. The Nobel peace prize awarded to both sides some years ago underlines the irony of the past.
Will Israel and the Palestinians ever live side-by-side in peace? Consider the following, which Naomi Chazan, a former member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, wrote in January, 2008, after what had been considered successful peace negotiations in Annapolis:
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come full circle. The successful completion of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations following Annapolis, may, finally, complete the process that began with the adoption of the Partition Plan 60 years ago. Truth be told, no better alternative exists.”
Nothing has changed
Gunter David and his parents fled Germany, their native country, as soon as Adolph Hitler rose to power. They settled in Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine, where Gunter grew up. He subsequently moved to the U.S., where he worked on major newspapers for 25 years. The Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize. He has returned to Israel numerous times, as a newsman and to visit family and friends, and covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973. His second career was as a family therapist and addiction counselor. Dalia, his wife of 57 years, is also from Israel.
ALL ARTICLES BY GUNTER DAVID:
February 19, 2010
By William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley
February 19, 2010
Dionysian and Apollonian Political Archetypes
* I am indebted to Karen at Oddity Journal for this wonderful image of the tesseract.
“America is the greatest country on Earth! Why do you think all those foreigners are trying to get a Green Card? If you don’t believe that, then you should go back to wherever you came from. Love it, or leave it!”
How many times have we all heard that invocation, whether on a stool in a bar, in a chair in a barbershop, or in a mental recliner, watching emotional manipulations on TV?
The problem is that every country thinks roughly the same of itself, especially those that are feeling slighted or intolerably embarrassed at their own failures and immoral actions. The worse we become, the louder we get. Germany, humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles, grew loudest of all, but Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan were not far behind, and even British restraint was no protection against the jingoism of the Boer War.
William Blake, Michael and Satan
The closest parallel to the almost religion-like quality of American patriotism seems to me to be the patriotism of Nazi Germany. Our spectacles of exaltation in Super Bowls, World Series, and Presidential Campaigns were pioneered by Leni Riefenstahl with her film The Triumph of the Will. In such a state of exaltation, the patriot emotionally cannot tolerate any criticism of the object of his adoration. Nazi Germans would insist on their cultural and racial superiority, and if told about the camps and the Holocaust during the war, they would dismiss such talk and insist that it was aiding the enemy by passing on his propaganda. Today Fox News would call any criticism of American foreign policy “Liberal America-Bashing” and insist it was aiding the terrorists.
T. S. Eliot observed in his poem “East Coker” that “In my beginning is my end.” Now at the end of “The American Century” we can look back to the beginning of the American Empire and hear again the voice of William James as he exclaimed in disgust at the atrocities of the Spanish American War, “God damn the U.S. for its vile conduct in the Philippines!”
Patriotism is not a propositional system of logic in which we seek to determine the truth. It is a consensual delusion in which we give permission to one another to lie in order to strengthen our sense of belonging and emotional security. Japan will not admit to “the rape of Nanking,” nor will Turkey to the Armenian genocide. Israel denies what it is doing to the Palestinians, and we Americans insist that we are always and only “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Since history is written by winners, history books lie “for the sake of the school children.” As Voltaire, said: “History is the lie commonly agreed upon.”
Lying is more than human and one can find its origins in the behavior of the higher primates. Like the primates, we humans are social animals and we need others to provide us with a sense of identity, so if patriotism is not of a sufficiently satisfying intensity, we will create more intimate and exclusive systems of identification with our local sports teams or neighborhood gangs. To maintain identity humans will happily lie. St. John may have maintained, “The truth will set you free,” but in doing so it sets you free of the group to which you used to belong.
War seems to be as intimate a form of contact as sex, and like sex there is a diploid exchange of traits. The Irish mystic and poet A.E. watched the Irish Troubles and the struggle for the liberation of Ireland turn dark as Republicans became terrorists and the British Black and Tans and secret services became torturers. In A.E.’s words in the twenties, “We become what we hate.”
The United States, having defeated Nazi Germany, now seems intent on imitating the Gestapo in affirmation of torture and the suspension of the Geneva Convention. When one looks at the snarling countenance of Cheney and the relaxed but reflective smile of Obama, one sees two archetypal political gods overlighting their avatars. Following the descriptions of Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, we can identify these two gods as Dionysus and Apollo. The former is the god of ecstatic transfiguration and dismemberment, the latter the god of reason and harmonic proportion.
Working alongside Cheney, the Evangelical Right is now following the lead of Nazi Germany by seeking to rewrite American history to insist that the Founding Fathers wanted to create a Christian theocracy with no separation of Church and State. They won’t stop until they have created a Christian version of Iran for America ruled over by Christian Mullahs like Pat Robertson. Aided by the Neocons and the Israeli lobby, Americans will be encouraged in OpEd essays in the New York Times and Washington Post to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”
In his very Apollonian book of common sense, Engaging the Muslim World, Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan and famous blogger of Informed Comment, has challenged the American Christian theocrats by giving us a piece of real American history.
As early as 1797, the U.S. Senate (in which several Founding Fathers sat) and the Adams administration approved a peace treaty with Tripoli (now Libya) that noted:
As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. (Juan Cole, Engaging the Muslim World, Palgrave/Macmillan: New York, 2009, p. 239)
Iran, as the reincarnation of the civilization of ancient Persia, ideally, should be the civilized leader of the Middle East; and America as the polity born of the Enlightenment should be the civilized leader of the West. Unfortunately, the reality of American behavior with its CIA and oil companies deposing the popularly elected Mossadegh and installing the military dictator of the Pahlevi Shah has been anything but enlightened and ideal. And equally un-ideal has been the Iranian Revolution , which like the French Revolution before it, has consumed its own children and replaced liberation with tyranny. Now two evil theocracies inside Iran and America are becoming caricatures of republics and are heading for war. Sunni Osama bin Laden in his hatred for the United States and the Shia will clap his hands and sing and louder sing for every tatter in our mortal dress.
Politics is not based upon reason or reasoning, but emotions and identity; its seat in the brain is the amygdala and not the frontal neocortex. We like to think that when there are political problems, there are political solutions, but our tragic predicament is that there is no simple solution to the emotional dynamics of human culture, because as the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has pointed out, emotions are necessary and empower our sense of values and good judgment. The brain is not a digital information-processing computer, so we cannot achieve wisdom by stripping ourselves of emotions and values. We have to learn how to deal with complexity and ambiguity, and for this process a sense of humor and compassion for one’s opposite or opponent is better than ideological zealotry.
The American government is now broken and dysfunctional, because it is blocked by the patriotic excesses of ideological politics and not motivated by problem-solving and governance. Human culture is also broken and dysfunctional, because it is about excess in our numbers and consumptive behavior and excess in our emotions and seizures of identity, and not about the pursuit of wisdom and enlightenment. Even in communities devoted to the pursuit of wisdom and enlightenment—the spiritual communes and ashrams of the seventies–the primate politics of the alpha male there too took over and gurus and cult leaders sexually and financially abused their followers. Our species has been tried, but the tragic truth is that we have failed. Exeunt omnes may very well be the stage directions for the end of the human drama.
Bosch - Temptation of St Anthony
The Evolution of life first manifested in cells, then multi-cellular forms, then organisms, then the meta-organism of the planetary biosphere that James Lovelock called Gaia and that Peter Ward now calls Medea. Humans seem about to lose their biblical dominion over the Earth as a new biosphere self-organizes around scenarios of our extinction.
Had we had what Jonas Salk called “the Survival of the Wisest,” we might have found that other forms of biospheres already exist on the moons of Jupiter and other solar systems. In extremis, I pray that the dead and floating spirit of Mankind may drift in a bardo meditation through the stellar nebulae and having learned its lessons of Earth will try again on the evolving debris of some other broken-hearted star to unfold the mystery of what Dante called “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.“
Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review
October 21, 2009
Editor’s Note: From November 1-3 , under the motto “Celebrate, Learn, Lead” and together with the Alliance for Peacebuilding, the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center will host the Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations in Washington DC. This event will honor the most peaceful countries and develop lessons from their experiences for others to emulate. Built on the recently developed “Global Peace Index”, this symposium will send the message that peace is attainable and that we can learn from those who have achieved it. In a list of 144 nations, Finland ranks 9th, and the US ranks 83rd.
by Cody Douglas Oreck
We drove to Turku, the oldest city in Finland, through rolling gold birch-treed hillsides dotted with red-and-white houses (admiring and sighing through bullet-proof windows) so that Bruce could open a show entitled “The Country that Paid its Debts” and address the Fulbright scholars. Some of you may not be aware that Finland was the ONLY country that paid its debt to the United States after WWI.
These payments were scheduled over many years and WWII intervened. This little nation was heavily bombed and ceded a tremendously important part of the country (some say its very heart) called Karelia to Russia. So they had to absorb and re-locate 400,000 Karelians into homes all over the country AND rebuild AND repay.
It took them years and years when no other country even tried. A young woman, the lovely Mirkka of the Embassy staff, smiled and said to me in her delicate Finnish accent, ”The world probably looked at us and thought: Suckers!”
The auditorium at Turku University was darkened over a packed house of Fulbright scholars and Turku students and professors. Bruce stood beside a giant screen as the opening notes of the famous La Rondine aria pealed out over us. As we listened to that incomparable piece of music, we watched the words on the screen tell the story of a young woman who had gone to Italy on a Fulbright scholarship and become a worldwide sensation. We saw photo after photo of that beautiful woman as her singing surely wrenched every heart. Bruce concluded as she sang the last note with the words on the screen “She was Anna Moffo. She was my aunt. She gave me my love of opera.”
He then proceeded to talk to these young people about creativity and how our words shape our thought processes-how our words in fact shape our reality and he built his case simply and eloquently. He used three minutes of President Barack Obama’s speech, delivered at the nadir of his campaign, which later became part of the song “Yes We Can.” It was still electrifying. As the screen went dark and the lights came up, Bruce said: “The world needs you. WE need you. Now go out and create.”
One more thing you may not know is that our country chose to use the money that Finland repaid us to invest in the Fulbright Exchange Program in Finland itself. Many prominent leaders here in Finland were once Fulbright scholars in America.
Cody Douglas Oreck lives and works at the American Embassy Helsinki toward a sustainable future for our children and our children’s children. She has fallen in love with Finland.
Bruce Oreck is a lawyer, businessman, green builder, philanthropist and the current United States Ambassador to Finland.
For more information about the Global Peace Symposium, please contact: Bob Neumanm, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-494-8629, www.peacefulnations.org
October 3, 2009
By William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley
Open Letter, October 1, 2009
Dear Mr. President,
Today, because of your leadership, six world powers are meeting directly with Iran. Your negation of the Bush neocon doctrine of the isolation, punishment, and humiliation of Iran is wise and far-seeing, but in considering sending more troops to Afghanistan, you are standing on the edge of a sandy peak that is about to become a cascade into death valley. You are good at thinking, so please step back and rethink the whole issue of our military presence in the Middle East and Central Asia. As a cultural historian, I offer the following points for you and your advisers to consider.
1. Stop the unending “War on Terrorism.” Terrorism, as the English learned with their troubles with the IRA, is a criminal problem and should be handled with police actions and not “boots on the ground.” Terrorists are ideological serial killers and should be handled by SWAT police forces and not invading armies that generate “collateral damage” to civilians in their conflating the Peace Corps work of nation-building and counter-insurgency measures. The presence of American troops is the best recruiting strategy Al Qaeda has.
2. Stop confusing defending America with defending American interests. If you try to play “the Great Game” of containing and controlling China’s growth and need for fossil fuels by having American bases in Central Asia to protect a Central Asian pipeline and check Russia’s oil industry; or if you seek to please India with an American presence in Afghanistan to help check Kashmiri terrorists, you will displease Pakistan and lose their aid in attacking Qaeda and Taliban bases in Wasiristan. In the enantiodromias of policy in which the opposite of our intentions is energized, you will only fuel a Central Asian hatred for an Imperial America.. If we seek to live like an Empire, we will surely die like an Empire. On a recent flight from Atlanta to Portland, Maine, I sat next to a teenage solider on home leave before being shipped out to Afghanistan. He was scared and confused, and certainly did not understand the politics of “the Great Game.” To die for Halliburton or the oil industry is not to die defending one’s country. It is a new form of human sacrifice, but one built on myths and lies similar to the old Aztec forms. Terrorists talk teenagers into becoming suicide bombers as a way of giving life insurance to their impoverished and damaged families and personally entering paradise. Are we to do the same?
3. Instead of sending more troops to Afghanistan, which will only work to support a corrupt regime limited to Kabul and a drug economy operated by war lords that is nation-wide, call for an international conference of Islamic Civilization with all parties present: from the tyrannical regime of Iran, the authoritarian regime of Saudi Arabia, and the delusional regime of Libya. Give a speech as fine and historic as your speech in Cairo and indicate that the challenges of terrorism, technological change and modernist values, civil liberties and good representative government, the rights of women, and religious tolerance are challenges that Islamic Civilization must address and are ones that cannot be solved by the Western Democracies and imposed on the Islamic World. Announce that you will be withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, and then leave the conference. Yes, leave. Let the Islamic nations elect a chair for the conference and create an agenda. Let Sunni have it out with Shia as Republicans now have it out with Democrats in Congress. And if the parties to the conference don’t resolve their issues and fight among themselves in a display of cultural entropy, then at least it will happen without American soldiers dying in a futile effort to repair, not a failed state, but a failed civilization. If instead they rise to the challenge, then our planetary civilization will have taken a step forward as great as that of the founding of the United Nations.
4. If you do not rethink this historical challenge, but fall back upon “politics as usual,” you will not have politics as usual but an unraveling of our American polity in which both the Left and the Right will desert you and any political goals you had set for your administration will be crushed under a cascade of tragedies. Your presidency will mark the end of “the American Century” as Teddy Roosevelt’s marked its beginning.
Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review
August 26, 2009
Peace Talks – Race, Equal Rights, and Opportunity
by Harriet Mayor Fulbright
(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of Wednesday talks with Harriet Mayor Fulbright, President and Founder of the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center. As college students begin returning to campuses this week, we publish Mrs. Fulbright’s spring commencement speech to the 2009 graduating class of Cheyney Univirsity of Pennsylvania.)
Harriet Mayor Fulbright
I have a grandson named Bo, now in college, and since he was required to do community service in high school, he continued the practice in college and last fall worked on the presidential campaign for Barack Obama. On the day of the election, he called headquarters and asked if there were voters who might need rides to the polls and was sent to a precinct with a large percentage of elderly people.
At one point the African American woman took the seat next to him, looked at him as he drove off and said, “Young man, do you realize that 50 years ago I had to drink water from a fountain marked ‘colored,’ and here I am in a white boy’s car being driven to the polls to vote for a black man for President!” Before Bo could open his mouth, she burst into tears, and at that point Bo could not answer because the lump in his throat was too big.
Just over fifty years ago I was graduating from one of the best universities in the country so I cannot begin to imagine what my grandson’s passenger had gone through, but women of all colors were flagrantly discriminated against at that time, and I was no exception. When I walked into my first job interview with my resume in hand, eager to take my place as an adult in the workplace, I sat down in front of the desk of a pleasant looking gentleman who asked me my name and a bit about my family and where I came from. Then without even looking at my professional qualifications, he smiled and said, “Well, young lady, I hope that you know how to type because that is what you are going to be doing!”
Needless to say I went elsewhere. Even so, my first job taught me about office management and methods of dealing with a wide variety of people rather than how to use the knowledge I had gained at college. Only later did I really have a chance to practice what I had studied, but I have never regretted having to learn those early lessons.
Today the idea of separate water fountains and lunch counters for whites only or professional jobs for men only seem like very bad dreams. Today the opportunities are so numerous that at times the problem is one of choice – how to select one of the many paths open to you. Today women as well as men are free to study medicine, law, or any one of the sciences as well as education, history and the arts, and my own children are wonderful example of the possibilities. All three are women. The youngest decided at the age of ten that she was destined to be a lawyer and is now senior counsel at the Securities and Exchange Commission. My middle child showed a talent for mathematics at an early age and has become a professor of computer science, and my oldest has always been creative in whatever she did and is an outstanding artist and carpenter.
You have all those opportunities and many more, though you may have to look a little harder now, thanks to the economic downturn. What this requires is perseverance, fortitude, a willingness to work hard in a beginning position and a sharp eye wide open for opportunities. Harlan Cleveland, a most successful author, diplomat and college president, offered a few more suggestions for facing the future:
· Don’t forget your hopes and dreams but develop a feeling of special responsibility for envisioning a future that’s different from a straight-line projection of the present;
· Realize that most risks are there not to be avoided but to be taken – big risks are often life-affirming;
· Understand that if your rush forward and upward is interrupted, this gives you time for self reflection, conversation, and service to others which can be so satisfying.
As Senator Fulbright said,
”Whatever the circumstances of the moment, whatever the demands of government and industry on universities – and whatever the rewards for meeting these demands – the highest function of higher education is what might be called the teaching of things in perspective, toward the purposes of enriching the life of the individual, cultivating the free and inquiring mind, and advancing the effort to bring reason, justice and humanity into the relations of men and nations.”
So keep cultivating that inquiring mind of yours and look for ways to improve the community you choose to inhabit, always with an eye to expanding your horizons in and out of the workplace. With practice at testing your mind and imagination and thinking outside the box, you will be amazed at the opportunities you will begin see in the distance for you and for those you love. It’s a wonderful world, and it is up to you to help keep it that way.
Harriet Mayor Fulbright is president and founder of the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center, which works to create peace through education exchange programs around the world.
June 8, 2009
by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
(Editor’s Note: In 2008, I had the opportunity to meet Saudi Arabian author Yousef Al-Mahaimeed at the PEN American Center World Voices Festival in New York City. Here are his thoughts on President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East. Joy E. Stocke)
President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia was a good opportunity to remove misunderstanding between the USA and Saudi Arabia because, as you know, we had a great relationship for decades. But after September 11th we are suffering as Saudis from the treatment in United States.
I can’t forget my first and last visit to New York City to participate in the PEN American Center’s World Voices Festival. Airport security stopped me for more than three hours without any reason, just because I am a Saudi citizen this was my first visit. They did not care about the invitation from PEN. Anyway, I don’t like to talk about personal experience, but it is one of many cases that happen regularly.
Politically, we are optimistic in the Middle East for Obama’s visit, but at the same time we should be realistic that he cannot export democracy to the Arabian countries from the first world. He cannot make the Arabs believe in freedom of religion, or persuade the Arabian governments to give citizens their rights such as freedom of speech. A long time is needed to build new vision in this area.
The historic speech of Obama in Egypt was great; it was fair for Muslim communities but still contained just ideas and advice. All of us are humans, so all of us deserve peace. We are tired from Iran’s threats, and the insolent threats of Israel government, and Americans in Iraq and the whole area. I think it is not easy to solve many political problems in Middle East.
We always talk about politics and economics, but we cannot talk about the culture, how to change the people in Arab countries, how to make them open minded, and accept other cultures and respect the other religions.
When Obama became president, many Arabs celebrated, because with former President Bush, they felt that the American president, like any Arab president, could decide to do anything whenever he wanted.
Yousef al-Mohaimeed is author of the novel, Wolves of the Crescent Moon.
May 7, 2009
“No-Drama Obama?” Your Mama
How the Calm That Brought Barack to the Presidency Has Been Replaced by a Drama that Outshines “The Real Housewives of New York City”
By Desk Jockey
New Yorkers enjoy such an embarrassment of theater—Chekhov, Arthur Miller, and Eugene O’Neill in this season alone—that we are equal parts spoiled, cynical, and dismissive.
Even a turkey like O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, which manages to combine incest and the Civil War in one evening, doesn’t evoke more than a slightly arched eyebrow.
But for real drama, all New Yorkers need look no further than their plasma TVs nor switch between Wolf Blitzer, Bill O’Reilly, or Rachel Maddow. For on cable stations like these, and on news outlets across the Internet, you will find a seesawing of events which makes Obama-watching exciting. Far more exciting than anything Madonna and her boy-toy Jesus could cook up, anyway.
The calm before the storm
Back during BushWorld, an era which concluded a scant two months ago, the Democratic presidential primary pit La Passionara (a.k.a.Hillary Clinton) against the cool, calm, collected junior senator from Illinois. Many New Yorkers, inherent cynics that they are, were a bit wary of a young candidate who seemed to preach from a celestial elevation about “change we can believe in.” It struck many of us, Desk Jockey included, as a bit ZenMaster.
However, a fair fight’s a fair fight. And when Senator Obama prevailed over Hillary last August, we Democrats (no one is anything but a Democrat in New York) joined hands and collectively leaped on the bandwagon driven by Barack Obama. Of course, the political train wreck known as Sarah Palin definitely hastened our embrace of the soon-to-be president.
The subsequent debates with Republican Senator John McCain confirmed that Barack not only projected an image of cool competency but that he was firmly entrenched in the twenty-first century, while the wildly mercurial Arizona Senator was busy allying himself with a president (Theodore Roosevelt) straight from the nineteenth. September’s collapse of Lehman Brothers, as well as McCain’s statement that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” didn’t contribute to the Republican reputation for being the “daddy” party.
So, as we all know, the presidential election took place last November 4, Desk Jockey celebrated Obama’s victory at Times Square that evening, and when all the votes were counted, the problems of the country mysteriously vanished with the haze.
Since Senator Obama became President-elect Obama, the world has been on nothing less than a gigantic tilt-o-whirl ride.
Prominent officials were nominated to cabinet posts, and soon afterwards, were knocked ungraciously off those posts. (Desk Jockey is still wondering why former statesmen would give up a multi-million-dollar income to work in…government?)
A governor with a bad Beatle haircut tried to “sell” Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, and crassly used his gubernatorial powers to nominate a weak candidate who replaced the junior senator (and remains there by the skin of his teeth, at this writing.)
Most recently, an $800-plus-billion recovery bill was passed in Congress, but not before President Obama had to hop on a jet and barnstorm for it himself. Yes, he can…channel Harry S. Truman, that is.
About the only political candidate not facing any drama is the candidate who stirred up no lack of her own sturm-und-drang last year: Hillary Clinton. Poised between smiling Chinese and Korean women, she looks like someone who “won” after all.
Barack Wayne or Barack Cooper?
If President Obama has become the Drama Queen of 2009, then which Hollywood actor does he most resemble?
Is it Gary Cooper, who faced off against the gun slinger in High Noon with cool, calm collectedness? Or would it be Robert Redford in The Candidate, who upon winning office turned to his campaign aides and asked, “Now what do we do?”
Despite Republican attempts to shake his cool at every turn, Desk Jockey would argue that Barack Obama is the real-life Don Draper, the debonair advertising hero of “Mad Men,” the AMC television show heading into its third season. “Mad Men” has a fanatical following among certain New Yorkers, including Desk Jockey, who is a recovering ad man himself.
Don Draper is the ultimate Cool Cat, circa early ‘60s. He looks great in a suit, always says the right thing at the right time, constantly wiggles out of tight spots, and ladies, both married and unmarried, worship him. (Sound like any 44th president you know?)
Some undoubtedly will point out that Don Draper also cheats on his wife, asks his secretary to lie for him, disappears for weeks on end, and is so cruel to his half-brother, that the latter hangs himself in a hotel room.
Fortunately, President Obama shares none of these failings. But I am sure that with healthcare, Afghanistan, “bad banks,” toxic assets, and Rush Limbaugh all nipping at his heels, he will inspire a season of drama that exceeds anything we’ll see on Broadway this year.
On the other hand, “Waiting for Godot” opened April 30.
Desk Jockey writes the From the Wilds of Manhattan column.
November 10, 2008
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I still remember it to this day. I remember an injustice about to be committed in front of my very eyes. And I remember how there was no way in Hell I was going to stand there and let it happen… no matter what the consequences.
A co-worker was bent over a composing board and was working her fingernail underneath a copy block. “We’re going to have to fill this space,” she says as the curled corner of the waxed text began to pull away from the page.
We have to get this edition to press tonight… and the gears in my mind automatically start turning and processing the problem of how we’re going to fill this empty space. “Is there something wrong with the story?”
“Yeah…. These are good kids, friends of my daughter,” she says of the story about members of the high school football team cited with underage drinking at a house party. “We can’t run this.”
“Are you serious?” In my incredulity, I forget that I’m just a minimum wage employee of this small-town weekly newspaper as I challenge a colleague who was much farther up the food chain in this organization than I was.
“You pull that story… I quit.” I take a stand. There is an implied threat that if I walk out the door, that the odds of this finished edition going to press on time have grown slimmer.
The edition went to press intact.
I believed, and I still do, that the job of the press is to just report. It’s not up to a journalist to pick and choose what stories (or what parts of the story) that the people get to see… or how they see it. The responsibility of the media is to lay out the facts… not to protect those they like, and certainly not to engage as a benign propaganda engine for a political point-of-view.
And that’s what I believe is exactly what the media has done with this election cycle. I believe that the members of the mainstream media manipulated public perception in order to benefit one particular presidential candidate. I believe that a specific narrative was developed with a desired outcome.
I completely understand the resistance to the old canard about the “liberal media establishment.” The notion that there is a hidden cabal of left-wingers working for the cause of global socialism is patently silly. But, there is certainly a mindset in the media.
Recently, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of 2,412 stories from mainstream media outlets during the final six weeks of the campaign.
The results: While the candidates are receiving equal amounts of coverage, 59% of stories about McCain were “decidedly negative in nature,” while only 14% were positive.
Obama hasn’t exactly been fawned over by media, but the coverage statistically has been more evenhanded, with 36% of stories clearly positive, 35% neutral or mixed, and 29% negative.
The authors note that the most positive stories on Obama were about politics, rather than policy — stories like polling, the electoral map, and tactics.
And the Washington Post Ombudsman even conceded that coverage was biased toward Barack Obama as well…
“Post reporters, photographers and editors — like most of the national news media — found the candidacy of Obama, the first African American major-party nominee, more newsworthy and historic.”
The news is the first draft of history… and there are a lot of members of the press who want to be the first at writing that history. We are all impatient to get working on the next chapter of the Great American Story, and it’s not often that events unfold that are picture-perfect moments in that story.
History is replete with inevitable events and firsts: such as the election of the first African American as the President of the United States… as will be with the first Woman… and the first Asian American… and the first So-On-and-So-Forth. That’s America. We are a melting pot with a rich diversity of the great people that are the citizens of this great nation. And these firsts will continue to happen as the ingredients of this pot continue to simmer together and further evolve the blend of seasonings and flavors that is America.
This is a great story. This story is a dream come true. The great and inspirational dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. has now come that much closer to realization. We want to be on the mountaintop. We want America to redeem herself.
I can’t think of a better Hollywood ending for this story… than for a African-American man to throw off the yoke of the specter of slavery and generations of racism and rise to be the most powerful man in the world. The prospect of a JFK-style sense of new beginning, hope, and promise is a Hell of a lot more interesting to write about than another old white guy being handed the mantle of power.
I’m not saying that the results would have been different if there was even-handed coverage. John McCain ran a lousy campaign… strategy was reactive rather than proactive. He was reduced to reminding the people what they were voting against, rather than definitively giving them something to vote for. The campaign may have used a different playbook if the playing field were a little more level. It just would have been better for the country if there were more of a fairer fight.
What we have today is the journalistic equivalent of a fireman setting fires, just so he can put them out for the sheer adrenaline rush. This is an incredible story and should have written itself… it didn’t need a nudge.
The fact is that no one should get to shape the coverage and tell the stories that they want to, simply because they are the stories they want to tell. That’s what fiction is for. Just don’t hand it to us as news.
Gene Patrick is a writer and an American Dreamer.
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